TRIBECA – ‘Clementine’ Tries too Hard to Fill the Emptiness of Summer Days

“You’re beautiful. You’re so young.”

Clementine is an unsettling summer thriller about the relative layers of youth and beauty, and how their interconnection can tear relationships apart. Karen (Otmara Merrero), the protagonist of Lara Jean Gallagher’s film, has a muddled idea of being young. As the film opens, her then-girlfriend “D” (Sonya Walger) records her lying in bed, the two sharing an intimate moment. D is lamenting as she calls Karen beautiful and young; she tells Karen she’s going to break a lot of hearts, but Karen disagrees.

After the home video ends, the film cuts to a devastated Karen as she breaks into D’s lake house. The two have split. Karen listens to D’s voicemails over and over again, feeling her voice and recollecting their romance in the same serene location. As she mourns, enter Lana (Sydney Sweeney): a 19-year-old girl with aspirations to become an actress. Lana, who claims she is the next-door neighbour, pleads Karen to help find her dog. Karen obliges, and through an awkward car ride, the two discuss Los Angeles, acting, and lost dogs.

While the tone of the film is meant to feel mysterious and threatening, the leading actresses have no chemistry to add to the burn. The plot becomes heavy and slow because they are boring, slow, and uninteresting. Lana, in an act of youthful ambition, persists to learn more about her mysterious neighbour. During the day, they swim at the lake; at night, they dance to D’s record player. The brilliant lake house views, full of lush foliage and sparkling lake water, in these scenes lift the film to express the tranquillity of summer. The thrill to break this tranquillity, however, is absent.

Lana explains the real reason she is living next-door is that she met a guy who claims to have a Hollywood connection. She tells Karen she wishes she were older so she could have everything she wants, but Karen only offers pessimistic words of wisdom: “You’re only old when you know what you want and you’ll never get it.” Karen is the bridge between D, an absent, older figure, and Lana, an obsessed young one. She unsure of herself, and if she is meant to act mature or juvenile.

Gallagher spins the story as if Karen’s lesbianism is a mystery left for Lana to solve in order for the two to find romance with each other. Karen tells Lana the reason the phone is continuously ringing is that her ex won’t leave her alone. In response, Lana tells her, “Men are scum.” The film lingers on its identity, unsure as to whether the lesbianism is a normal aspect of the story, or an oddity in the mystery that awkwardly unfolds. The age gap between Karen and her lovers leaves a bitter taste — why is this a continual issue with lesbian films?

While it offers promising scenery and an exciting soundscape, Clementine fails in its narrative aspects. There is no real “mystery” to follow, it burns aimlessly without any final fade or bust. The performances are enthralling at the start, but become monotonous as the film dawdles on. The climax is boring and borderlines on being offensive, as Lana explains her problematic dreams of acting were inspired by her love of “being told what to do,” as it connects to her love life.

 

by Fletcher Peters

Originally from the suburbs of Chicago, Fletcher is now living in New York and working on her BA in Cinema Studies. As for hobbies, she loves crossword puzzles, seeing low-budget off-off Broadway shows, and when she’s at home, annoying her cats. Her favourite films primarily come from screenings her parents held for her growing up — from Rear Window to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to Raiders of the Lost Ark. She’s also a fan of everything Star Wars related. You can find her on TwitterLetterboxd, and Instagram.

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